Educational Technology Research and Development

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 47–73

Patterns of understanding with open-ended learning environments: A qualitative study

  • Susan M. Land
  • Michael J. Hannafin

DOI: 10.1007/BF02299524

Cite this article as:
Land, S.M. & Hannafin, M.J. ETR&D (1997) 45: 47. doi:10.1007/BF02299524


This study examined patterns of scientific understanding using an open-ended learning environment (OELE). Four seventh-graders were drawn from a general science class and were studied as separate cases. The OELE was the ErgoMotion program on mechanical physics, which combines computer-generated graphics, computer simulations, video, and print-based materials. Primary data collection techniques included think-aloud protocols and interviews. The results indicated that learners perceived information from the system, derived interpretations to explain observations, and used system features to test interpretations. Learners also, however, tended to perceive and interpret information inaccurately. While learners built and formalized scientific theories, they often failed to use system data to evaluate the limitations of their understanding. In some cases, they assimilated new data into existing theories, ignored inconsistent data, or derived independent theories to account for contradictory evidence. This study indicated that powerful intuitive theories, which are highly resistant to change, influence the interpretation of system events.

Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan M. Land
    • 1
  • Michael J. Hannafin
    • 2
  1. 1.the University of OklahomaUSA
  2. 2.the University of GeorgiaUSA